Update: All I can say is that if you are going to write a letter to my boss complaining about this blog at least take the time to proofread it.
I’ve never had to issue a formal disclaimer for this blog, but with the start of the new school year now seems like an opportune time, especially for a select few. It goes without saying that the views expressed on this site are mine and mine alone. I do not write in any official capacity as the department chair and as a history teacher at St. Anne’s – Belfield School, though I do write about my experiences in the classroom. Civil War Memory has no official connection to my place of employment and the St. Anne’s – Belfield School does not endorse this site in any way. The URL of this site is is not associated with the school and this website is financially maintained by me.
I hope that clarifies things.
I finally finished my last writing assignment for the summer and am ready to think about the new school year. Due to the amount of construction taking place on our two campuses we have an extra week before classes begin in September. This year I’ve decided to reevaluate the seating arrangements in my classroom. In the past I’ve had my desks set up in a semi-circle, which promotes discussion between students without losing the focus on the teacher at the center of the room. This arrangement has worked well for me in the past, but it is time for a change. In addition to my AP US History and Civil War courses I will be taking part in a pilot program in American Studies. The course will run two periods over four days. The first hour will be spent in a lecture hall setting where all 32 students can come together for joint instruction followed by break out sessions of much smaller groups (pic #1). The focus of the course will make it possible to connect readings in American literature with more traditional sources found in the history survey course. It’s going to be an exciting year for me. What I like is that the smaller sessions will take place around a large table (pic #2), which resembles the Harkness Table and philosophy employed at Phillips Exeter Academy.
This brings me back to my own classroom, where I’ve decided to follow suit and rearrange my desks (pic #3). I am hoping that this will create an even more intimate environment and promote mature dialog among my students. It will also allow me to move more easily away from the center of attention when necessary. All of my classes are designed as student-centered with a strong emphasis on debate and discussion. That said, it is clear that we are going to have to introduce and train students for this kind of setting. It does, after all, welcome distraction. I am looking forward to it.
All the best to those of you who have already started or who are getting ready to head back into the classroom.
As I make my way through my manuscript on historical memory one last time before sending it in, I am reminded of the dramatic changes that have taken place in the way we remember and commemorate the battle of the Crater. Much of that change has taken place over the past forty years as a result of the Civil Rights Movement. Before 1970 you would be hard pressed to find references to the story of USCTs in both written accounts and in the way the battlefield itself was interpreted. My manuscript ends with a few reflections about the Civil War Sesquicentennial, but when I peer into the future it is this image that I see. This is a photograph of Emmanuel Dabney, who works as a park ranger at the Petersburg National Battlefield. He is a native of Dinwiddie County and has fully embraced its rich history. Emmanuel has a degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Mary Washington and recently completed an advanced degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. If Emmanuel has his way he will spend his career educating the public at PNB.
In many ways, Emmanuel is a big part of the story that I tell about the Crater. On the one hand, the fact that he is African American situates him at a crucial moment in the overall life of the battlefield and our broader understanding of the Civil War. At the same time Emmanuel has been a huge help to me throughout the research and writing process. Even this past weekend he helped to track down information about one of the Crater’s wayside markers. One of the joys of working on this project has been the opportunity to meet people, like Emmanuel, who share my passion for history and education.
[Photograph from Petersburg Progress-Index]
I don’t have much sympathy for adults who buy into the black Confederate meme. In the end, it is simply a reflection of their gullibility, lack of basic historical knowledge relating to the Civil War and an inability to properly interpret primary sources. On the other hand and as a teacher, I am disgusted when children are brought into the picture. They become the victims of the stupidity of others. Consider this little gem of a book, titled, Entangled in Freedom: A Civil War Novel, which is slated for release in January 2011. The book is authored by Kevin M. Weeks, who is known for The Street Life Series. Here is a short description:
Entangled in Freedom, the first novel in this young adult fiction book series, takes a closer look at the life experiences of African-Americans in the Deep South during the War Between the States. Young adult readers follow main character Isaac Green through the dirt roads of Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia to Cumberland Gap where Isaac serves with the 42nd Regiment Georgia Volunteers C.S.A. Historical accounts are derived from 19th century official government records as well as real life family narratives of co-author, Ann DeWitt.
These two names should ring a bell. Not too long ago I shared a new website on black Confederates that was created by Ann DeWitt. It’s unfortunate that Ms. DeWitt did not take proper care of her family’s narrative. Sometimes simply repeating family stories does not honor the memory of one’s ancestors, especially if those stories are inaccurate.
Thanks to the folks at the Civil War Preservation Trust for putting on a first-rate conference. I had a great experience and I look forward to the opportunity to help out again next year in Franklin, Tennessee. My panel discussion last night was successful. The audience asked some very thoughtful questions about the role and use of technology in the classroom and this was after a long day of walking the Gettysburg battlefield. I can’t say how impressed I am with this organization. Nicole Osier did a great job organizing the conference and it was a pleasure meeting the rest of the staff, including Robert Shenk and Gary Adelman. The CWPT understands that saving battlefields is about educating the general public, especially our students, who will one day be responsible for taking on leadership positions in this good fight. I can think of no better way of showing my support than by joining the CWPT and I encourage you to do so as well.
I especially enjoyed my time at Gettysburg. This was my first trip to the battlefield with a group and it gave me quite a bit to think about. For one thing I can’t tell you how many times I overheard references to the movie, Gettysburg. Workshop presenters referenced the movie as did participants in casual conversations, and it was even mentioned on the tour. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but I have to wonder whether folks are able to distinguish between a Hollywood interpretation and the history of the actual site. It’s as if people view the battle and its participants through the lens of the movie. Luckily, I didn’t hear any references to Buster Kilrain. Even though the movie was released back in the early 1990s it shows no sign of letting up. The actors remain popular attractions and even Mort Kunstler’s paintings look more like the movie’s actors than the actual historical figures. The strangest and, in my mind, the most disturbing aspect of this phenomena is the bench dedicated to Michael Shaara that was recently placed in Hollywood Cemetery next to the grave of George Pickett. How this was allowed to happen is beyond me, but I encourage you to take photographs of yourself doing something disrespectful on it having some fun with it.